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Before the Courts
January 18, 2013, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal Senior Correspondent

THE SAN MATEO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE KEEPS SAN MATEO COUNTY'S COURTHOUSES SAFE AND SECURE. The deputies of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office assigned to the San Mateo County Superior Court are an integral part of the court system, working both directly with the public as well as behind the scenes to make sure that court business can take place smoothly and safely. Sheriff's Office personnel carry out their complex duties at five court facilities: the Hall of Justice in Redwood City; the Southern Traffic Court Annex in Redwood City; the Youth Services Center in San Mateo; the Central Courthouse in San Mateo; and the Northern Courthouse in South San Francisco.

FRONT ENTRANCE CHECKPOINTS. For the general public entering the courthouses, the first person they see is probably a deputy sheriff. Deputy sheriffs are assigned to the front entrance security checkpoints at the five facilities to prevent any threats to public safety, to spot and defuse potentially dangerous situations, and to keep weapons from entering the building. By inspecting briefcases, purses and, sometimes, the visitors themselves, these highly visible deputies make it possible for those having business at the courts to carry out that business safely in what can be highly emotional circumstances. The deputies assigned to the security checkpoints also may be called on to respond to medical emergencies and incidents that occur within the court facilities and to deal with alarms regarding trouble or problems at the various court clerks' offices.

COURT SECURITY. Deputy sheriffs who provide security in the courtrooms are commonly referred to as bailiffs. A bailiff, who is often assigned long term to a particular judge, has the job of making sure that courtroom proceedings can flow smoothly and his or her responsibilities are numerous. The bailiff is the person you see and hear calling the judge into the courtroom and telling you to rise and sit. These deputies keep a watchful eye on the people who enter the courtroom, make sure that the public is aware of and abides by the court's rules of conduct and, by controlling the courtroom, enable the judges to whom they are assigned to carry out their duties. Court bailiffs might also guard juries and take custody of offenders.

PRISONER TRANSPORTATION. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Transportation Bureau handles the complicated logistics of providing the secure transportation of inmates to and from court appointments for arraignments, trials or sentencing. These prisoners may be in custody at any of the various jail facilities operated by San Mateo County, and the arrangements are complex. In the course of one morning, for example, in connection with the courtrooms in Redwood City, dozens of prisoners must be moved in a timely manner through the fourth floor walkway over the street separating the Main Redwood City Jail from the Redwood City Courthouse, into fourth floor holding cells in the courthouse, down into various second floor holding cells, and from there into courtrooms, all in accord with tightly scheduled court calendars. Similar movements must be arranged for prisoners making appearances in the courts in South San Francisco. In addition, the Sheriff's office handles the transportation for prisoners who are going to and from medical appointments, and to and from other county and state correctional facilities.

CIVIL ENFORCEMENT. The Sheriff's Civil Enforcement Bureau works in conjunction with the Civil Courts in San Mateo County and Civil Courts throughout the state of California in the execution and service of process and other court orders. It is the goal of the Civil Enforcement Bureau to serve civil processes in a timely manner while maintaining an impartial position between all parties involved. Among the documents served are Restraining Orders related to Domestic Violence, Elder Abuse, Workplace Violence, Orders involving Civil Harassment and Evictions.

A BIT OF HISTORY. The first Sheriff took office in 1856 when San Mateo County was incorporated from parts of San Francisco and Santa Cruz Counties. Today, the Sheriff's Office has more than 600 sworn and civilian personnel who provide various law enforcement services to all cities in the County, including contract police services for the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain), the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans), the city of San Carlos, the Eichler Highlands and the towns of Woodside and Portola Valley. The Sheriff also provides investigative services to the San Francisco International Airport. The current Sheriff, Greg Munks, has served as the 19th Sheriff of San Mateo County since January 2007.

Susan E. Cohn is a member of the State Bar of California. She may be contacted at

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